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Dereference Theory of Consciousness

October 24, 2016 Leave a comment

Draft 1.1

IMO machine consciousness will ultimately prove to be an oxymoron, but if we did want to look for consciousness analogs in machine behavior, here is an idea that occurred to me recently:

Look for nested dereferencing, i.e. places where persistent information processing structures load real-time sense data about the loading of all-time sense data.

image

At the intersection of philosophy of mind, computer science, and quantum mechanics is the problem of instantiating awareness. What follows is an attempt to provide a deeper understanding of the significance of dereferencing and how it applies to integration of information and the quantum measurement problem. This is a broad conjecture about the nature of sensation as it pertains to the function of larger information processes, with an eye toward defining and identifying specific neuroscientific or cognitive signatures to correlate with conscious activity.

A dereference event can be thought of as the precise point in which a system that is designed or evolved to expect a range of inputs receives the real input itself. This sentence, for example, invites an expectation of a terminal clause, the terms of which are expected to be English words which are semantically linked to the rest of the sentence. English grammar provides templates of possible communication, but the actual communication relies on specific content to fill in those forms. The ability to parse English communication can be simulated by unconscious, rule-based mechanisms, however, I suggest that the ability to understand that communication involves a rule-breaking replacement of an existing parse theory with empirical, semantic fact. The structure of a language, its dictionary etc, is a reference body for timeless logic structures. Its purpose is to enable a channel for sending, receiving, and modifying messages which pertain to dereferenced events in real time. It is through the contact with real time sense events that communication channels can develop in the first place, and to continue to self modify.

What is proposed here is an alternative to Multi-World Interpretation of Quantum Wave Function collapse – an inversion of the fundamental assumption in which all possible phenomena diverge or diffract within a single context of concretely sensed events. The wave function collapse in this view is not the result of a measurement of what is already objectively ‘out there’, nor is it the creation of objective reality by subjective experiences ‘in here’, but a quantized return to an increasingly ‘re-contextualized’ state. A perpetual and unpredictable re-acquaintance with unpredictable re-acquaintance.

In programmatic terms, the variable *p is dereferenced to the concrete value (*p = “the current temperature”, dereferenced p = “is now 78 degrees Fahrenheit″). To get to a better model of conscious experience (and I think that this this plugs into Orch OR, IIT, Interface Theory, and Global Workspace), we should look at the nested or double dereferencing operation. The dereferencing of dereferencing (**p) is functionally identical to awareness of awareness or perception of perception. In the *p = “the current temperature” example, **p is “the current check of the current check of the temperature”. This not only points us to the familiar Strange loop models of consciousness, but extends the loop outward to the environment and the environment into the loop. Checking the environment of the environmental check is a gateway to veridical perception. The loop modifies its own capacity for self-modification.

Disclaimer: This description of consciousness as meta-dereferencing is intended as a metaphor only. In my view, information processing cannot generate conscious experience, however, conscious experience can possibly be better traced by studying dereferencing functions. This view differs from Gödel sentences or strange loops in that those structures refer to reference (This sentence is true) while the dereference loop specifically points away from pointers, rules, programs, formal systems, etc and toward i/o conditioning of i/o conditions. This would be a way for information-theoretic principles to escape the nonlocality of superposition and access an inflection point for authentic realization (in public space-time as shared experience). “Bing” = **Φ. In other words, by dereferencing dereference, the potentially concrete is made truly concrete. Sense experience is embodied as stereo-morphic tangible realism and tangible realism is disembodied as a sense of fact-gathering about sensed fact-gatherings.

Dereference theory is an appeal to anti-simulation ontology. Because this description of cognition implicates nested input/output operations across physically or qualitatively *real* events, the subjective result is a reduced set of real sense conditions rather than confabulated, solipsistic phenomenology. The subjective sense condition does not refer only to private or generic labels within a feed-forward thinking mechanism, but also to a model-free foundation and genuine sensitivity of the local ‘hardware’ to external conditions in the public here-and-now. This sensitivity can be conceived initially as universal property of some or all physical substrates (material panpsychism), however, I think that it is vital to progress beyond this assumption toward a nondual fundamental awareness view. In other words, subjective consciousness is derived from a dereference of a local inertial frame of expectation to a universal inertial frame of unprecedented novelties which decay as repetition. Each event is instantiated as an eternally unique experience, but propagated as repetitive/normalized translations in every other frame of experience. That propagation is the foundation for causality and entropy.

What’s the Biological Use of Consciousness?

June 25, 2016 4 comments

My answer to a Quora question.

This question sounds reasonable only when we have first assumed that consciousness evolved from biology. I would argue that while it certainly seems that consciousness has become richer and more complex through biological forms and functions, there can be no biological use for consciousness itself.

Consider the practical function of the human body. What does it need to do that other bodies don’t? Everything from a mosquito to a mountain lion has similar biological imperatives and evolutionary pressures to contend with. For that matter, every one celled organism or even DNA molecule functions in the same way – it survives and reproduces. Whether these structures feel like they are trying to survive and reproduce is irrelevant. I’ll say that again, because it is that important:

It cannot matter biologically whether a given structure feels, thinks, senses, or has any experience at all, and to assume it does would be a logical fallacy:

petitio principii, which actually translates as ‘assuming the initial point’”.

The initial point here is the existence of consciousness itself. When we assume that it exists, we are compelled to fill in our explanation with a “Just-so story”; an ad hoc, unfalsifiable hypothesis which will give rationalize a connection between our initial assumptions of biology without consciousness and consciousness arising out of utility to biology.

We might speculate that consciousness was bestowed upon Homo sapiens (gradually of course) as a cause or effect of the success of the species in adapting to more ecological niches than others. We might say that there was a feedback loop between consciousness, self-awareness, intelligence and the accumulation of knowledge and technology to better ensure survival in almost any climate and against almost any predator. This is a good story, and it makes sense if we make the mistake of equating intelligence with consciousness. It is easy to make that mistake, since we are conscious and find it difficult to separate our experience of knowing and surviving from the actual behaviors which our body is performing to accomplish that.

This logical error was articulated very nicely by Dr. Raymond Tallis, in his book Aping Mankind. He talks about the difference between the ‘retrospective’ view of consciousness, which I was just describing, where we assume that consciousness exists and then try to justify its origin in pre-conscious phenomena and the correct ‘prospective’ view of consciousness which requires us to adhere to our hypothesis of pre-consciousness from the start. Without the appearances that we are accustomed from our own consciousness, we find the universe which physics and biology give to us is devoid of any appearance at all. Blind mechanisms are literally that – chain reactions of cause and effect which occur by physical law and statistical probability: Nothing more.

From here, we are compelled to negate our previous story which links intelligence with consciousness and see that the whole notion of ‘intelligence’ is a conceit of consciousness, and that any intelligence which hypothetically developed in the absence of consciousness would be just another sophisticated-looking chain reaction of nature. The appearance of sophistication is, again, purely subjective and dependent upon some conscious framing of the appearance. To us, a large organic molecule seems impressive, but since physics can have no preferred frame of reference, there is no appearance of a molecule, only one generic atom and then another one, and another. Each one unaware of anything, and nothing aware of an overall ‘grouping’ of atoms.

As long as we begin from any structure which functions in the total absence of sensory experience, there can be no logical justification for the possibility of sensory experience as a physical function. If a human zygote can already build a living brain, not to mention an immune system, digestive system, circulatory system, etc, all without any conscious experience at all, then what sense does it make to expect that ordinary tasks of animal survival and reproduction should benefit functionally from the addition of some kind of unexplainable metaphysical hallucination?

This is not an argument for Creationism*. Far from it. To me the idea of a single conscious creator has the same problem that Materialism has, only seen from the other way around. God has to be conscious, and God cannot create his own consciousness, so unless consciousness automatically comes with the sense of self, it seems more plausible to me that God, gods, people, and things are all dependent on a phenomenal substrate which transcends all others – beyond space and time, beyond order and entropy, beyond probability or improbability there must be sense experience…a phenomenon in which all phenomena perceive and participate directly.

It may not seem that way to us, from our limited scope of human consciousness, because our lifetimes are so short and our instants of perception are so long relative to biology and physics, but I think that it is the case that on some frame of reference, all phenomena is purely experiential. Consciousness is using biology, not the other way around. Biology is like physics squared, with each living organism its own recapitulation of the big bang, standing in absolute contrast to its inorganic origins, connected to the totality of experience by food, water, light, and each other. This is not to say that “a rock is conscious” but rather that we perceive a rock from a biased set of reports from our human body. We are seeing a fragment of mineral residue from what would be, on a geological or astrophysical scale of time and space, a musical fireworks show of stellar-planetary animation. It’s all about frames of reference, but taken in a new way which sees reference and relativity not as framed by mathematical relations, but of perceptual gymnastics on a scale which extends well beyond biology or even ‘reality’.

*If people do prefer to think of Consciousness as intrinsically God-like, I can’t rule it out. Maybe consciousness-with-self-hood simply is the empirical fact, like the color red, without precedent or logic. That could just be the way that it is in all possible universes, that consciousness is personality who thinks and acts.

Relying on logic instead, my conclusion would be that while God or gods could be real to human experience (by way of higher consciousness that is more deeply connected with the cosmological scales of time, using metaphor to communicate with its time-spliced version of itself), they are more likely to have evolved as a reflection of zoology. In a universe made of conscious experience, the experience of the organism which moves itself around the world of other organisms and non-organisms would have a good reason to conceive of itself as a self, and of its deepest connection to eternal experience as a super-self, hero, polytheistic god or monotheistic God.

For those who prefer to think of nature as Godless, the sense-first view can be understood to introduce a third cosmological form of expression, a fundamental one from which the other two cosmological platforms of physical forms and logical functions diverge as experienced time, rather than emerge in a pre-existing context of space-time. It’s a flipping over of the foundations of our cosmology, so that quantum theory and relativity, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology all represent incomplete views of nature that we have developed out of fragmentation of our understanding into extremely specialized sciences.

The one common denominator of all of our modern approaches is that they share the same blind spot for our own native human frame of awareness. We have stenciled an outline of our own image out of the conspicuous absence of it in the stars, the neurons, and the laws of information and physics. In my view, the way forward is to perform a Copernican inversion on our worldview…not returning to a pre-scientific anthropomorphism, but to explain both anthropomorphism and its now dominant opposite (I call it mechanemorphism) in a deeper context of sense and sense-making. Once we engage in this symmetry objectively, i.e., to see the intrinsic subjectivity in objectivity and objectivity in subjectivity, then a lot of things fall into place, including this perilously transformative time in human history.

Hyper-Mentalism and Supernatural Belief

May 24, 2015 2 comments

This article from Psychology Today, Hyper-Mentalism, Hyper-Empathizing, and Supernatural Belief, talks about the diametric model’s explanation of the psychotic end of the autistic-psychotic spectrum.

“To use an analogy, the diametric model implies that we live in parallel mentalistic and mechanistic universes, with mental causality ruling the first and physical causality the second. Religious, superstitious, and magical thinking clearly represent an encroachment of the mental world on the real one in the form of belief in divine creation, miracles, the power of prayers and spells, and so on. Indeed, as I pointed out in an earlier post, you could see traditional religion and superstition as the result of a primeval mentalistic inflation which hyper-mentalized the real world, in part because mechanistic understanding of it in the form of modern science, medicine, and technology had not had time to develop. Furthermore, you could also see this as the paradigmatic historical case of a “combination of strong mentalizing coupled with poor understanding of the physical world.”

In my view, this is very close to the hypothesis that has been developed under the Multisense Continuum or ACME/OMMM model.

The diametric model deserves more attention, in my view, however I think that the assumptions behind the model are themselves biased toward the systemizing/mechanistic end of the spectrum. Note the language in the quote above: “Religious, superstitious, and magical thinking clearly represent an encroachment of the mental world on the real one“. Highly subjective states are identified as being intrinsically unreal rather than being an extension of nature and reality. The end of that quote shows another good example of the mechanistic worldview, associating superstition with “poor understanding of the physical world.” I would not deny that there are many people who do suffer from a poor understanding of the physical world and compensate for that to some extent with magical thinking, however, that correlation does not always hold true. Many people, such as myself, embrace the physical world and have an excellent understanding of it, yet see that behind and beyond mechanistic appearances are also more subtle natural phenomena. It is not that the psychotic is poorly equipped for reality, it is more like reality poorly equipped to contain psychotic hyper-sensitivities. This is not to say that paranoid schizophrenics are right about the content of their delusions, only that the form of paranoid delusions reflect (in a distorted way) the transpersonal territory of the psyche.

In the short article linked above, the author makes the distinction between his diametric model and “Simon Baron-Cohen’s rival scheme, which has systemizing versus empathizing instead of the diametric model’s mechanistic versus mentalistic cognitive dualism”. Here again, the distinction between empathizing and mentalistic is itself a mechanizing/systemizing distinction. Both the diametric model and empathizing-systemizing model label the ‘feminine’ side in terms of a personal function. The former sees empathy as a cognitive skill, while the latter seems to suggest that it is overdeveloped empathy which interferes with the correct application of cognitive skills. In both cases, the bias of contemporary academic science shows through: Extraordinary awareness which conflicts with consensus reality is a defect.

This bias is not surprising, nor is it even a negative if we are trying to get a handle on human psychology for purposes of treatment. The problem that I see, is that it closes the door on the deeper dimensions of psyche and fails to take seriously the implications of consciousness transcending classical physics. Once we do take a scientifically objective look at these implications, I think that we wind up with a theory of order and participation in the universe which is not limited to human psychology but extends beyond physics, information science, philosophy, and religion: A new scientific cosmology based on sense phenomena.

multisense-diametric

Consciousness and Evolution

December 1, 2014 Leave a comment

My answer to Quora question

While human consciousness has certainly been shaped by evolution, that does not mean that consciousness itself could have evolved from non-consciousness. Whether we are talking about other species of animals or cells or organic molecules, the same issues which we run into in explaining human consciousness are still present at any scale. The issues of the hard problem of consciousness, explanatory gap, binding problem, and symbol grounding problem make the mind-body split just as relevant wither the ‘body’ is a brain, neuron, or subatomic particle. No matter what, you have to explain how an ‘interior world’ can ‘exist’ in a physical structure whose behavior is causally closed.

Whatever way you slice it, if we accept that T-cells can be effective in detecting and neutralizing threats on a cellular level without having consciousness, or that DNA can create cellular machines which build a brain without consciousness, then we are admitting that consciousness doesn’t make sense as a functional adaptation. The rest of the universe already works too well without it. There is nothing especially interesting about a hominid’s need for food and shelter which would demand rich awareness to develop out of blind reflex. Single celled organisms chase food, avoid danger, etc also.

We are then left with considering that either consciousness could somehow be an accident of evolution, or that consciousness may be intrinsic to all physical phenomena in some sense (panpsychism, panexperientialism) or even that consciousness is the universal substrate upon which all phenomena depends (idealism, idealist monism).

If consciousness is a mutation that has no functional role (a spandrel), we have to ask why it would even be a possibility. Remember that if consciousness is a mutation, we are assuming that there is a whole universe already in place which is overflowing with processes, biological and otherwise, which are perfectly capable of directing themselves effectively while being unconscious. It’s actually a radically anthropocentric cosmology since we are privileging our tiny piece of history in the universe as the only piece which is not devoid of experience. We are saying that everything that existed before humans was unconscious, therefore an invisible, intangible, silent void with no memory etc. If we are not intending that, and prefer to think that the universe looked, sounded, felt, and tasted just like it does for Homo sapiens since the dawn of time, then we would have to ask exactly what we think consciousness is adding to that kind of eternal-universal ‘unconsciousness’.

If consciousness is intrinsic to physical phenomena (as in Penrose-Hameroff’s microtubule-based Quantum Consciousness) or is intrinsic to information integration (as in Tononi-Koch’s IIT), we still have the same kind of mind-body problem. A ‘body’ which is a statistical function rather than a literal form in space is still falls short of explaining why and how there is any such thing as consciousness. In my view, only the idealist monist view, or what I call pansensitivity makes sense ultimately as the parent of both physics and information. Just as we learn to count on our fingers, all forms of information are representations of experiences which have an aesthetic foundation – a seeing, feeling, touching, thinking, etc. Without that sensory-motive context from the start, there would nothing to evolve; only abstractions in the dark (or not even dark). Once we can get over ourselves as a species and recognize that consciousness doesn’t begin and end with us, I think that awareness will be seen as the container of relativity itself, with quantum mechanics and evolutionary biology as a consequence of deeper stories rather than their originator.

Free Will Isn’t a Predictive Statistical Model

December 25, 2013 12 comments

Free will is a program guessing what could happen if resources were spent executing code before having to execute it.

I suggest that Free Will is not merely the feeling of predicting effects, but is the power to dictate effects. It gets complicated because when we introspect on our own introspection, our personal awareness unravels into a hall of sub-personal mirrors. When we ask ourselves ‘why did I eat that pizza’, we can trace back a chain of ‘because…I wanted to. Because I was hungry…Because I saw a pizza on TV…’ and we are tempted to conclude that our own involvement was just to passively rubber stamp a course of multiple-choice actions that were already in motion.

If instead, we look at the entire ensemble of our responses to the influences, from TV image, to the body’s hunger, to the preference for pizza, etc as more of a kaleidoscope gestalt of ‘me’, then we can understand will on a personal level rather than a mechanical level. On the sub-personal level, where there is processing of information in the brain and competing drives in the mind, we, as individuals do not exist. This is the mistake of the neuroscientific experiments thus far. They assume a bottom-up production of consciousness from unconscious microphysical processes, rather than seeing a bi-directional relation between many levels of description and multiple kinds of relation between micro and macro, physical and phenomenal.

My big interest is in how intention causes action

I think that intention is already an action, and in a human being that action takes place on the neurochemical level if we look at it from the outside. For the motive effect of the brain to translate into the motor effect of the rest of the body involves the sub-personal imitation of the personal motive, or you could say the diffraction of the personal motive as it is made increasingly impersonal, slower, larger, and more public-facing (mechanical) process.

Free Will and the Unconscious

December 15, 2013 Leave a comment

The key oversight, in my opinion, in the approach taken by neuroscientific research into free will (Libet et al) is in the presumption that all that is not available to us personally is ‘unconscious’ rather than conscious sub-personally. When we read these words, we are not conscious of their translation from pixels to patches of contrasting optical conditions, to loops and lines, to letters and words. From the perspective of our personal awareness, the words are presented as a priori readable and meaningful. We are not reminded of learning to read in kindergarten and have no feeling for what the gibberish that we are decoding would look like to someone who could not read English. The presentation of our world is materially altered at the sub-personal, but not ‘unconscious’ level. If it were unconscious, then we would be shocked to find that words were made of lines and loops or pixels.

In the same way, a robotic task is quickly anticipated, even 10 seconds ahead of time, without our personality getting involved. This does not mean that it is not ‘us’ making the choice, only that there is no need for such an easy and insignificant choice to be recognized by another layer of ‘us’, and reported by a third layer of ‘us’ to the personal layer of us.

When we work on the sub-personal level of neurons, we are addressing a layer of reality in which we, as persons, do not exist. Because we have not yet factored in perceptual relativity as a defining existential influence, we are making the mistake of treating a human being as if they were made of generic Legos instead of a single unique and unrepeatable living cell which has intentionally reproduced itself a trillion times over – each carrying the potential for intention and self-modifying teleology.

How do evolutionary psychology and neuroscience compare as popular theories to “explain everything” about human nature?

November 3, 2013 4 comments

“These two theories are the biggest explanatory frameworks at the current time, with neuroscience rising and evolutionary psychology looking a bit threadbare.  And they are quite different.

I don’t mean, are these valid theories scientifically, but how good are they as a way for people to tell meaningful stories to each other about human nature?  What do we become through that telling?  What gets left out?”

Answer by Craig Weinberg:

In Raymond Tallis’ book Aping Mankind, he describes the over-reaching of neuroscience and evolutionary psychology and names them “Neuromania” and “Darwinitis”. While this assessment is likely seen as inflammatory or offensive to the many dedicated and brilliant professionals who have devoted their lives in pursuit of understanding human nature scientifically, his criticisms are quite defensible. Tallis, a neuroscientist himself, argues that both disciplines contribute to what I call de-presentation, and he calls ‘the disappearance of appearance’.

When neuroscience looks at human nature, it does so from the outside – as the behavior of cellular and molecular bodies, of organs and networks of ‘connections’. Evolutionary biology also looks at human nature from the outside, as the behavior of zoological ecosystems, species, and inherited bodies. Taken together, these super-personal systems and sub-personal systems can be de-ranged to completely subsume the personal, the private, and most significantly human aspects of human nature.

It is a bit like looking at human nature under a blacklight. With most of the frequencies in the dark, neuroscience and evolutionary psychology have done a fantastic job of illuminating some hidden aspects of ourselves – how and where we fade into subconscious and unconscious mechanisms. We have glimpsed some of our own biases and seen behind the curtain of many misperceptions. We have not yet, however dared to turn this critical lens on itself. We have not seen how neuroscience and evolutionary biology themselves are excluded from the general distrust and marginalization of awareness. Somehow, the totality of our human experience can be written off as a solipsistic simulation or ’emergent property’ of ‘information’ processing, yet the mechanisms of science are presumed immune from the politics of our species and the unreality of the brain’s twitchings in the dark. Sam Harris actually said something to the effect of “certain kinds of thinking” extend outside of the bubble of human delusion (but without saying how).

What gets left out, according to Tallis, is humanity. Arts, literature, civilization. While he goes on in the second half of his book, to argue the profound difference between human beings and other species, I would argue that does make human beings more special than others on Earth, I would not say that it makes us an exception to zoology, or physics. Instead, I would argue for a radical reinterpretation of physics in which privacy and aesthetic appreciation are seen as more fundamental cosmological influences than public, functional mechanisms.

 

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If human beings are nothing more than matter, why are you conscious as yourself?

October 30, 2013 Leave a comment

If human beings are nothing more than matter, why are you conscious as yourself?

Quora question:

Philosophy: If human beings are nothing more than matter, why are you conscious as yourself?
The implication of materialism is that we are in essence wet robots, without free will, just chemical reactions. But if this is true and we are conscious, then does it logically follow that all chemical reactions have “consciousness” to some degree? If the human mind is just an extremely advanced computer, then at what point does “consciousness” occur?

We don’t know that chemical reactions are unconscious, but if they were, then it makes sense that the entire universe would also be unconscious. It is very tricky to examine the issue of consciousness and to draw parallels within common experience without unintentionally smuggling in our own expectations from consciousness itself. This is the Petito principii or circular reasoning which derails most fair considerations of consciousness before they even begin in earnest.

Unlike a clock which is made up of gears, or a particular sized pile of hay, the addition of consciousness has no conceivable consequence to the physical function of a body. While we can observe a haystack burst into flames because it has grown too hot, we cannot look at the behavior of a human body see any special difference from the behavior of any other physical body. There is complexity, but complexity alone need not point to anything beyond an adjacency of simple parts and isolated chains of effects.

Just as no degree of complication within a clock’s mechanism would suddenly turn into a Shakespearean sonnet, the assumption of universal substitution is not necessarily appropriate for all phenomena, and for consciousness in particular. To get a color image, for instance, we need to print in colored dots, not black and white. Color TV programs cannot be broadcast over a monochrome display without losing their color.

Unlike chemical or mechanical transformation, the nature of awareness is not implicated in the shuffling of material particles from one place or another. Any natural force can be used to do that. We have no scientific reason to insist that conscious participation and aesthetic appreciation is derived from some simpler functioning of complex systems. To the contrary, ‘complexity’, and ‘system’ can only make sense in the context of a window of perception and attention. Without some teleological intent to see one part as part of a whole, and to compare remembered events with current perceptions, there is no such thing as ‘function’ at all.

There are several important points wrapped up in this question, which I will try to sum up.

1. The failure to consider consciousness metaphysically.

This is the most important and most intractable issue, for three reasons:

  • because it is difficult for anyone to try to put their mind outside of mind. It’s annoying, and winds up feeling foolish and disoriented.
  • because it is difficult in particular for the very people who need most to get past the difficulty. I have found that most people who are good with logic and scientific reasoning are not necessarily capable of doing what others can. The skillset appears to be neurological, like handedness or gender orientation.
  • because those who do have difficulty with thinking this way are often not used to intellectual challenges that escape their grasp, their reaction is so defensive that they react with intolerance. It’s not their fault, but it cannot be cured it seems. Some people cannot see 3-D Magic Eye art. Some cannot program their way out of a paper bag. In this case it is the ability to consider consciousness from a prospective rather than a retrospective view which can prove so inaccessible to so many people, that frothing at the mouth and babbling about unicorns, magic, and the supernatural is considered a reasonable and scientific, skeptical response. Of course, it is none of those things, but it takes a lot of patience and courage to be able to recognize one’s own prejudices, especially when we are used to being the ones telling others about their biases.

2. The taboo against metaphysics, panpsychism, and transrationality

Long after Einstein, Gödel, and Heisenberg shattered the Humpty Dumpty certainties of classical math and physics, we are still trying to piece him back together. Regardless of how much we learn about the strange properties of matter, time, energy, biology, and neurology, there are a huge number of very intelligent people who are convinced that we will only know the truth about the universe when it all looks like a vast deterministic mechanism.

The compulsion to reduce awareness to passive mathematical or physical states is ironic, given that the defense of automaticity is often accompanied by very hands on personal intention. Even when it is pointed out that arguing against free will is futile (since someone without free will could not change their own opinion about it even if they wanted to, let alone someone else’s opinion), the mind of the determined determinist will always find a way of insist upon being in the right, even when they are ultimately sawing of the limb that they are sitting on.

When it comes to anything that suggests the possibility of non-human awareness, many people not only become personally uncomfortable, but they become socially uncomfortable as well. The taboo against unconventional views on science (even when backed by anthropological universality) is so pervasive and xenophobic that it is career suicide for a working scientist to publicly acknowledge them in any but the most condescending tones.

3. The pathetic fallacy

The pathetic fallacy is to take a metaphor in which some inanimate object is given a human quality (“The camera loves you”), and take it literally. While I count myself among those who once saw computation and pattern as being the only ingredient necessary for awareness or life, my understanding now is that no pattern can exist without a capacity for pattern recognition. The ability to receive and make sense of the real world is not a matter of generic relations of disembodied bits of “information”, but is in fact the concrete reality of the cosmos. The universe does not exist for us humans, but it cannot exist as silent, unconscious, intangible physics for billions of years and then suddenly invent the whole of sensation, emotion, intuition, cognition, etc, just for some hominids on this backwater planet. It now strikes me as profoundly anthropocentric to imagine that the entire universe could be devoid of perceptual content until life evolved.

In my view, the universe itself is nothing but a continuum of qualities of consciousness. These qualities, however, relate to experienced contexts. We cannot take the human-ness out of a human and put it into a machine. Biology has mechanisms and performs computation, but if that’s all it was doing then the inside of the brain would look like logic, not like sex and violence and musical theater.

Wittgenstein, Physics, and Free Will

October 14, 2013 1 comment

JE: My experience from talking to philosophers is that WIttgenstein’s view is certainly contentious. There seem to be two camps. There are those seduced by his writing who accept his account and there are others who, like me, feel that Wittgenstein expressed certain fairly trivial insights about perception and language that most people should have worked out for themselves and then proceeded to draw inappropriate conclusions and screw up the progress of contemporary philosophy for fifty years. This latter would be the standard view amongst philosophers working on biological problems in language as far as I can see.

Wittgenstein is right to say that words have different meanings in different situations – that should be obvious. He is right to say that contemporary philosophers waste their time using words inappropriately – any one from outside sees that straight away. But his solution – to say that the meaning of words is just how they are normally used, is no solution – it turns out to be a smoke screen to allow him to indulge his own prejudices and not engage in productive explanation of how language actually works inside brains.

The problem is a weaseling going on that, as I indicated before, leads to Wittgenstein encouraging the very crime he thought he was clever to identify. The meaning of a word may ‘lie in how it is used’ in the sense that the occurrences of words in talk is functionally connected to the roles words play in internal brain processes and relate to other brain processes but this is trivial. To say that meaning is use is, as I said, clearly a route to the W crime itself. If I ask how do you know meaning means use you will reply that a famous philosopher said so. Maybe he did but he also said that words do not have unique meanings defined by philosophers – they are used in all sorts of ways and there are all sorts of meanings of meaning that are not ‘use’, as anyone who has read Grice or Chomsky will have come to realise. Two meanings of a word may be incompatible yet it may be well nigh impossible to detect this from use – the situation I think we have here. The incompatibility only becomes clear if we rigorously explore what these meanings are. Wittgenstein is about as much help as a label on a packet of pills that says ‘to be taken as directed’.

But let’s be Wittgensteinian and play a language game of ordinary use, based on the family resemblance thesis. What does choose mean? One meaning might be to raise in the hearer the thought of having a sense of choosing. So a referent of ‘choose’ is an idea or experience that seems to be real and I think must be. But we were discussing what we think that sense of choosing relates to in terms of physics. We want to use ‘choose’ to indicate some sort of causal relation or an aspect of causation, or if we are a bit worried about physics still having causes we could frame it in terms of dynamics or maybe even just connections in a spacetime manifold. If Wheeler thinks choice is relevant to physics he must think that ‘choose’ can be used to describe something of this sort, as well as the sense of choosing.

So, as I indicated, we need to pin down what that dynamic role might be. And I identified the fact that the common presumption about this is wrong. It is commonly thought that choosing is being in a situation with several possible outcomes. However, we have no reason to think that. The brain may well not be purely deterministic in operation. Quantum indeterminacy may amplify up to the level of significant indeterminacy in such a complex system with so powerful amplification systems at work. However, this is far from established and anyway it would have nothing to do with our idea of choosing if it was just a level of random noise. So I think we should probably work on the basis that the brain is in fact as tightly deterministic as matters here. This implies that in the situation where we feel we are choosing THERE IS ONLY ONE POSSIBLE OUTCOME.

The problem, as I indicated is that there seem to be multiple possible outcomes to us because we do not know how are brain is going to respond. Because this lack of knowledge is a standard feature of our experience our idea of ‘a situation’ is better thought of as ‘an example of an ensemble of situations that are indistinguishable in terms of outcome’. If I say when I get to the main road I can turn right or left I am really saying that I predict an instance of an ensemble of situations which are indistinguishable in terms of whether I go right or left. This ensemble issue of course is central to QM and maybe we should not be so surprised about that – operationally we live in a world of ensembles, not of specific situations.

So this has nothing to do with ‘metaphysical connotations’ which is Wittgenstein’s way of blocking out any arguments that upset him – where did we bring metaphysics in here? We have two meanings of choose. 1. Being in a situation that may be reported as being one of feeling one has choice (to be purely behaviourist) and 2. A dynamic account of that situation that turns out not to agree with what 99.9% of the population assume it is when they feel they are choosing. People use choose in a discussion of dynamics as if it meant what it feels like in 1 but the reality is that this use is useless. It is a bit like making burnt offerings to the Gods. That may be a use for goats but not a very productive one. It turns out that the ‘family resemblance’ is a fake. Cousin Susan who has pitched up to claim her inheritance is an impostor. That is why I say that although to ‘feel I am choosing’ is unproblematic the word ‘choice’ has no useful meaning in physics. It is based on the same sort of error as thinking a wavefunction describes a ‘particle’ rather than an ensemble of particles. The problem with Wittgenstein is that he never thought through where his idea of use takes you if you take a careful scientific approach. Basically I think he was lazy. The common reason why philosophers get tied in knots with words is this one – that a word has several meanings that do not in fact have the ‘family relations’ we assume they have – this is true for knowledge, perceiving, self, mind, consciousness – all the big words in this field. Wittgenstein’s solution of going back to using words the way they are ‘usually’ used is nothing more than an ostrich sticking its head in the sand.

So would you not agree that in Wheeler’s experiments the experimenter does not have a choice in the sense that she probably feels she has? She is not able to perform two alternative manoeuvres on the measuring set up. She will perform a manoeuvre, and she may not yet know which, but there are no alternatives possible in this particular instance of the situation ensemble. She is no different from a computer programmed to set the experiment up a particular way before particle went through the slits, contingent on a meteorite not shaking the apparatus after it went through the slits (causality is just as much an issue of what did not happen as what did). So if we think this sort of choosing tells us something important about physics we have misunderstood physics, I beleive.

Nice response. I agree almost down the line.

As far as the meaning of words go, I think that no word can have only one meaning because meaning, like all sense, is not assembled from fragments in isolation, but rather isolated temporarily from the totality of experience. Every word is a metaphor, and metaphor can be dialed in and out of context as dictated by the preference of the interpreter. Even when we are looking at something which has been written, we can argue over whether a chapter means this or that, whether or not the author intended to mean it. We accept that some meanings arise unintentionally within metaphor, and when creating art or writing a book, it is not uncommon to glimpse and develop meanings which were not planned.

To choose has a lower limit, between the personal and the sub-personal which deals with the difference between accidents and ‘on purpose’ where accidents are assumed to demand correction, and there is an upper limit on choice between the personal and the super-personal in which we can calibrate our tolerance toward accidents, possibly choosing to let them be defined as artistic or intuitive and even pursuing them to be developed.

I think that this lensing of choice into upper and lower limits, is, like red and blue shift, a property of physics – of private physics. All experiences, feelings, words, etc can explode into associations if examined closely. All matter can appear as fluctuations of energy, and all energy can appear as changes in the behavior of matter. Reversing the figure-ground relation is a subjective preference. So too is reversing the figure-ground relation of choice and determinism a subjective preference. If we say that our choices are determined, then we must explain why there is a such thing as having a feeling that we choose. Why would there be a difference, for example, in the way that we breathe and the way that we intentionally control our breathing? Why would different areas of the brain be involved in voluntary control, and why would voluntary muscle tissue be different from smooth muscle tissue if there were no role for choice in physics? We have misunderstood physics in that we have misinterpreted the role of our involvement in that understanding.

We see physics as a collection of rules from which experiences follow, but I think that it can only be the other way around. Rules follow from experiences. Physics lags behind awareness. In the case of humans, our personal awareness lags behind our sub-personal awareness (as shown by Libet, etc) but that does not mean that our sub-personal awareness follows microphysical measurables. If you are going to look at the personal level of physics, you only have to recognize that you can intend to stand up before you stand up, or that you can create an opinion intentionally which is a compromise between select personal preferences and the expectations of a social group.

Previous Wittgenstein post here.

Why do humans have a conscience?

October 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Why do humans have a conscience?

See the link for an answer to the Quora question on conscience. Part of it is as follows:

So, on this view, the conscience works something like this:

  1. Consider an action
  2. Search the normative model database for anger-oriented objections to actions like this.
  3. If you don’t find any, then consider the action permissible.
  4. If you find an objection, then see if there are ways to justify doing the action in spite of the objection.
  5. If so, then the action is permissible (but be careful, and be ready to justify yourself if questioned)
  6. If not, then the action is wrong.

I commented:

It seems to me that there are some normative assumptions in evolutionary psychology which fail to consider personality deeply. If, for instance, this model of conscience were put into a cartoon, rather than having an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, the character would have only an angel since the only thing that prevents them from doing what they would otherwise do (which, as in game theory assumptions, assumes blind self interest) is fear of anticipated social consequences, including guilty feelings.

I think that the stereotypical angel-devil cartoon actually has it more correct. Children and adolescents tend to embody this more clearly than adults, as ‘bad kids’ may not only have poor impulse control or a faulty conscience, but they are motivated by a more sadistic reward system. They enjoy hurting others, sometimes more than they are afraid of being hurt themselves.

By contrast, ‘good boys and girls’ may have a conscience which is naive even to guilt and is motivated by the better angels (of parental approval or perhaps self approval). There is something sexual here too…sort of paradoxical in that good kids are seen as both more ‘mature’ (trustworthy, better judgment) and less mature sexually (goody two shoes = late bloomer/virgin).

It seems to be very common that families often have kids where conscience is radically unbalanced. One is saintly, one is the delinquent, one presents themselves as tougher or nicer than they are…many combinations. Often these characteristics can seem present before their role in the family has even developed. This suggests to me that evolutionary psych models overlook some of the most important motives that drive conscience, which I think are ultimately only loosely related to evolutionary biology. Before we can care about right or wrong, we care about how we feel and how other people feel. It is not a model made by our brain at all, it is the direct presentation of anthropological aesthetics.

I agree of course that we have sub-personal mechanisms but that does not mean that we do not also contribute directly to our own life and the lives of others in a way which is irreducibly individual, non-mechanistic and volitional. The image of conscience as a matrix of modal logic is too reactive to rise, plausibly, to the level of conscious attention. If it was just a matter of not making others mad, we should have no business knowing that any strategies were being formulated at all – no more than our stomach would need a digestion conscience to avoid disappointing the colon.

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